Top Ten Looks for your AHA Interview

Every year between Christmas and New Year’s, many young historians (and some older ones) undergo a ritual of sorts. It begins with The Fretting and The Staring At One’s Closet. It quickly turns to The Frantic Hurling of Hangers, with clothing still attached. This is often followed by The Rush to The Mall and The Purchase of Ill-Fitting Suits in dark blue or gray.

Plenty of academic bloggers (including Tenured Radical and Historiann) have weighed in on this issue of what to wear, and what not to wear, to your AHA interview. A recent survey of academic friends on Facebook produced similar advice. And while committee members encourage job candidates to “be themselves” and “wear whatever you want,” candidates themselves tend to be skeptical of these suggestions. They feel they must look competent and professional–which seems to mean that they must look like bankers or FBI agents. Thus, the suits.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with suits. As Ari Kelman has put it, they are “grown-up Garanimals”; you mix and match and hardly ever make an egregious sartorial error.

If you are wandering the halls of the Hilton or the Sheraton in midtown Manhattan this weekend, you will therefore see a vast sea of blue and gray suits with a pop of color (purple! red!) here and there. There may some sweaters and skirts. Some brave soul will sport a bow tie. Because it is winter, there will be coats and hats and gloves. And because it is New York City there will be comfortable shoes and boots, fit for both interviews and treks to the subway. It will all be … well … kind of meh.

So here are the Top Ten Looks that I wish job candidates would wear for their AHA interviews.

10. “This IS my statement of teaching philosophy: Fierce.”



9. “If a student plagiarizes a paper in my class, I will ruin him.”



8. “My course evaluations suggest that I am both demanding and approachable.”

Betsey Johsnon


7. “Nothing can keep me from office hours. Not even snow days.”



6. “I’m not afraid of color. I’m also not afraid of a 4-4 teaching load.”



5. Oh. Hello, there.


I’m sorry, I got distracted. What were we talking about?


4. “I would have NO problem moving to a rural area. I have just the coat. And a jaunty hat.”



3. “How would I teach the first half of the survey? In head-to-toe sequins, of course.”



2. “That question is totally illegal. I can’t even look at you right now.”



 1. “Well, now that you ask, I have copies of my c.v. and course syllabi right here in this bag.”




11 thoughts on “Top Ten Looks for your AHA Interview”

  1. Thanks for #4. I think I own that hat, and you know my feelings about brown. Your blog also stimulated a New Year’s brunch conversation comparing the styles of AHA, MLA, ASA, AAR, and most interesting, the North American Society of Sports Historians, which I think wins the prize for variety.

  2. Brilliant. Thankfully it’s been several years since I’ve had to dress for an interview, but I remember thinking about matching the outfit to the institution. That went so far as not wearing a tie for one interview, which not surprisingly didn’t get me very far. But given that school had a problem with a faculty member urinating on his colleague’s door, I wasn’t too distressed.

  3. Great piece. But it did nothing for my (newly emerging) anxiety about what I should be wearing on MY side of the table. Ever since you brought this up on FB, I’ve been imagining the take-away from the other side: geez, I listened to Historista for THIS crew?

  4. Prep on top, punk below. A haircut that looks like you are paying attention. And a pocket square with a skull on it. This may be partly why I am an “independent” scholar.

    1. Keith, I love your sense of style — and I remember fondly our conversation about Citizens of Humanity jeans at that bar in Gettysburg.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *